I am really good at finding the right self-help book or podcast, the right song, or the right Bible verse whenever I’m down or facing a crises. I bury myself in wise and positive words, looking for anything to change my thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, I find a secret–a spark–that I never knew, and I tuck that into my pocket to ponder further. Other times I hear the things I already know–how I need to change my thought patterns, or how I should have grace for myself–but it’s said in a new way that inspires me all over again.
Speakers and writers don’t always say new things. If that was a requirement, there would be few people in those professions. The beauty of writing is that you can say something old in a new way. It’s difficult to do, but it’s wonderful when it happens, and an author tugs at you just by shifting your perspective.
But the truth is that it sometimes takes more than wise words for any real change to stick. If we have been on this earth long enough, we have already heard or read many of the things we have needed to know, especially if we are actively seeking wisdom for certain areas of our lives. Yet we still keep seeking, and even when we take in advice, we don’t always follow through with it.
Today I had little grace for myself and repeated some negative thought patterns. I didn’t follow through with a new productivity tool I’ve been trying. I didn’t start the day in prayer or gratitude. I didn’t stand up every twenty minutes. I didn’t drink eight glasses of water. I knew what I needed to know, but it didn’t change my habits.
In the same way, I believe many things that should keep me from stumbling. I believe I am loved by God, and that my life is not my own. I believe I am saved by faith and not works. I believe “His eye is on the sparrow.” I believe that, rich or poor, well or sick, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I stumble. I doubt. Worse than doubting–I forget! I don’t keep these things at the front of my mind at all times so that I walk in them day to day.
What would it take for these things to stick? What would we have to do to move from learning to doing?
Well, maybe that’s all it is–moving from learning to doing. We have to actually get up and do it. We have to try. But in order to try, we have to do at least two things:
1. We have to risk failure
Where we intend to memorize scripture to keep it in our thoughts, or actually drink 8 glasses of water, or maybe even start that daily writing practice—habits take a long time to form. We can’t expect change to happen just because we know something, because there are a lot of things you and I know about living a mentally, spiritually, and physically healthy life that we have not done. Instead, we have to expect that these things will take time, and that we will have setbacks.
I recently started bullet journaling and using a habit tracker. Each habit is given its own mini calendar so that I can mark off the days that I did it. After five days of using this, I have already failed to complete all of my habits. My first reaction to this was to be angry with myself, but–as I have learned over and over again but haven’t quite mastered–I know that I need to have grace for myself. But I also know that I need to keep trying, and the tracker is one way to make sure I do that.
I don’t think life is a constant uphill journey. I think the line between learning something and mastering it is full of ups and downs. As a perfectionist, this frustrates me. But it also gives me hope. If those lines must go down before they go up, then going down is just part of the journey.
We can also do everything we can to make it easier to succeed. In an interview by Kathy Heller, James Clear says we have to make habits before we can perfect them.
2. We have to believe we can do it
This is the hardest part. In that same interview, which I recommend if you are trying to form habits, James Clear explains that the best way to make a habit is actually not just about learning new techniques and trying them. The key is to assume the persona of the person you want to be. This is what we did when we played make-believe as children. We took on personas and acted them out, changing our posture, voice, and actions based on what that person would do. If I want to be a writer, then I have to tell myself again and again that I am a writer, and then do what writers do.
Yes, learning certain skills is necessary, but we most likely also have an innate understanding of what we should do. We have to believe that we can do it and then act on that belief.
The challenge I have given myself, then, is to spend less time looking for new wisdom and more time living what I have learned. I want to be honest with myself when I’m not being who I want to be, but I also want to have grace for myself and never let go of the belief that I can grow into that person.
I also want to challenge you. What do you believe but often forget? Who do you want to be? How does that person act, and how can you practice those behaviors? What wisdom do you know that you have not yet put into practice? What small things could you prioritize now? How might you track new habits? Who can keep you accountable?
Most importantly, where do you have no grace for yourself, and how can you practice self-forgiveness today?
You already know this. What now?